Over the last few days, I have been perplexed by the number of people who have condemned Tina Fey’s “Sheetcake” skit (SNL Weekend Update Summer Edition, August 17, 2017). Is it that people are unable to understand the multiple levels of her social commentary? Are they just too frustrated, angry, or tired of the heightened tensions surrounding the growing number of protests and attention paid to them by multiple forums? Or have they have dismissed or judged the skit without really watching it?
I am also troubled by the number of people who have so quickly shared the “Dear Martha” meme and/or video that was created by taking the photograph (above) from an incident at Charlottesville, Virginia, this last weekend and combining it with passages from a Civil War soldier’s letter in order to make a Ken Burn’s like “production.” What is the real message here? Do they seek to humiliate the people on the “wrong” side, do they want to display the superior creativity or intellect of the creators or the individuals who retweet and repost, or is it supposed to provide levity?
Do I just not “get it” (if you were thinking that already, you are right), or am I being a hypocrite because I think that people should reevaluate the Fey skit when I have decided that I do not need to reassess the “Dear Martha” parody? You would be, in part, correct.
In the past, I have reposted and retweeted items because I felt that an article, blogpost, or a meme had a valid point and that it might make someone reconsider their views. I have given an imaginary high-five to a speaker who I agreed with, and I admit I have, a time or two, dismissed claims I thought were incorrect. Some of those actions I stand behind, but I have also begun to seriously reconsider some of the others. I no longer hit those buttons on social media as fast as I used to. I am not sure what specifically caused me to step back over the last couple of weeks, but I know that seeing people that I respect spread the “Dear Martha” meme/video has made me more concerned about my own shares. It also makes me angry and disappointed.
Because I do not believe that I am being a hypocrite when I ask that we compare these two examples for a very important reason: Tina Fey is a comedian. She is paid to use humor to make people laugh and be entertaining (whether one agrees that the skit is funny or not). The individuals I have seen helping make the “Dear Martha” meme/video “trend” are not entertainers. Most I consider intelligent and nice people, many of whom are historians. If, as so many have claimed, our expertise and knowledge are relevant and needed to help our fellow citizens by informing public discourse, why are some of us participating in a format that threatens to close down discussion?
Seriously, I would like to understand how making fun of that Confederate reenactor is going to help us have civil conversations about monuments, history, memory, commemoration, free-speech, community building, civil rights, etc., etc., etc.
I am not talking about the actual event in which the photograph was taken; I am referring to the making and sharing of memes and videos that seek something very different than discussing the what, who, how, and why of that day. I am not the one who has the wisdom and knowledge to direct where we need to go on the Confederate monument issues, but there are some voices of reason and understanding who can. I think many of the deeply contemplated and well-reasoned blog posts and essays that we have shared here on Emerging Civil War, and of others elsewhere online and in print, are making a contribution. But we are clearly far from a space of common ground where something positive can occur—so why would anyone on any of the “sides” want to risk stopping the momentum?
For those of you who have stuck with me this long, thank you. I hope in the least that I have elicited the desire to go back and reread some of the posts we have shared here on ECW. The writers have worked hard and they care deeply about providing a platform for us to talk with each other, not over or about individuals or groups. We want to have a conversation with you.
But I also ask that you seek out other opinions on the monument issue, and to consider the multiple issues connected to that debate, such as concerns of the reenactor community and of educators heading back into the primary, secondary, and college classrooms, to name just a few. Maybe you can recommend other well-reasoned pieces that we can share. I believe that there are plenty of appropriate means and methods that we can use to expand the opportunities to discuss, learn about, and advocate for the significance of American Civil War history.
To me, it is too important to risk on a “fifteen-minutes-of-fame” quick hit on social media.